Judge blocks Confederate monument's removal
A Jefferson County Circuit judge on Monday issued a restraining order to block removal of the controversial Confederate monument near the University of Louisville.
Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman issued the order Monday morning against Mayor Greg Fischer and metro government, barring them from moving, disassembling or otherwise tampering with the 70-foot-tall monument.
GOP congressional hopeful Everett Corley filed the temporary restraining order in Jefferson Circuit Court to stop Fischer and U of L President James Ramsey from removing the monument from the school's campus. Also listed as plaintiffs are the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Kentucky Division, and its "Chief of Heritage Defense," and political activist Ed Springston.
A hearing is set for Thursday at 10:30 a.m. to consider their motion for a full temporary injunction.
"This restraining order is about respecting veterans," said Corley, a real estate agent, who argued it was the "equivalent of a book burning" and smacked of political correctness gone awry.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell said he would fight the restraining order, which he said took him by surprise. He said no one from his office was at the hearing, and his office is seeking a continuance so that lawyers have more time to prepare for the hearing on the full injunction. A hearing on that motion is set for Tuesday morning.
"We'll obviously comply with whatever those orders are ... but we will move to immediately set this aside," he said. "This is a question of law and a question of facts. I'm not over here to politically grandstand like this gentleman is," he said, referring to Corley.
Thomas McAdam, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the suit is based on several arguments in hopes of turning the order into a permanent injunction to keep the monument in place.
He said the basis of the lawsuit is that the mayor violated several laws, including not going through proper local, state and federal laws including historic preservation procedures. Because of the monument's placement on the national register of historic places, he said, notifications and hearings are required. The suit argues the move also violates the Kentucky Military Heritage Act and other state laws.
"We expect our elected officials to follow the law. The mayor has not followed the law," he said. "All we want is a fair hearing, all we want is to let the people know that this is part of our heritage, and you can't just erase history by tearing down monuments. That's what the Taliban does, that's what ISIS does. We don't do that in America."
Reacting to the judge’s decision, Fischer said the county attorney will handle the matter in the courts. “We believe we made the right decision,” Fischer said.
Fischer has previously said the monument should be moved from its location between Second and Third streets because it represents a painful chapter in history.
Asked if his administration followed proper procedure to move the memorial, the mayor said there is no such process on the books. The mayor said it was “kind of a unique situation” and reiterated the plan is to relocate the monument, not destroy it.
“We wanted to make sure that the state, the university and city were lined up on it and decided to make the decision,” Fischer said. “We feel good about that.”
The granite monument, completed in 1895, was built with funding from the Kentucky Women's Confederate Monument Association for $12,000, according to the suit.
“We need to understand our history in order to recognize and counteract its lingering effect,” Martina Kunnecke, president of Neighborhood Planning & Preservation, said Sunday. “Erasing it only serves to sanitize what was and what is.”Opponents have said the mayor’s announcement is tantamount to erasing history and ignores how Confederate soldiers played a role in the city’s history.
The restraining order comes on the same day Fischer announced the formation of a historic preservation task force that the mayor’s office says will seek ways to honor Louisville’s heritage. Keith Runyon, co-chair of the mayor’s panel, said Monday that unlike historic markers that remind residents about the horrors of the past, the Confederate memorial is one that honors those who wanted to maintain slavery.
“The old South, and the antebellum shtick that Louisville has sometimes attached to is not constructive,” he said.
“This is a dynamic monument, a ‘we’ll rise again’ sort of thing,” he added. “And just over time some things become outdated, and I think this one is.”
Kunnecke’s group has asked the Kentucky Heritage Council if removing the memorial falls under its purview. The group also wants to know what, if any, process is required to move or remove a historic monument.
“If you bleach away the complexity of our common past, it is difficult to perceive how complicated and horrible things were and remain,” Kunnecke said. “We never develop the discernment to recognize the inconsistencies or injustices that persist right under our very noses.”
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